The European Union needs to double its efforts to boost energy efficiency in order to cut greenhouse gases, partly by producing better household appliances, renovating public buildings and private homes, and driving improved cars, the EU executive said in a plan adopted Tuesday.
The European Commission said the EU can cut greenhouse gases 25 percent below 1990 levels by 2020, surpassing its own 20 percent target, through an efficiency campaign in transportation, construction and agriculture.
"The good news is we don't need to wait for technological breakthroughs," said European climate commissioner Connie Hedegaard, because existing technologies are enough. "We need to start the transition toward a competitive low carbon economy now," she said in a statement.
The overall goal is to cut emissions 80 percent by 2050. The plan, released in Strasbourg, France, sets milestones of 40 percent by 2030 and 60 percent by 2040.
The plan, called Roadmap 2050, is to be presented to the European Parliament and member states for drawing up appropriate legislation.
Environmentalists criticized the commission for refusing to revise the overall emissions target for 2020 from 20 percent to 30 percent below its level in 1990. The EU has said it will only raise that target as part of an international agreement requiring other industrial countries to radically reduce emissions.
"It's a bit disappointing the commission hasn't come out with a 30 percent greenhouse gas target. All the analysis shows it's very cheap, it's the kind of thing we can do," said Sanjeev Kumar of the environmental group E3G.
"The Commission's paper shows that the case for a 30 percent EU carbon target has never been stronger," said Joris den Blanken of Greenpeace.
The plan envisions investments of euro270 billion a year, or 1.5 percent of the EU's economic output, but said most or all of that would be recovered through lower oil and gas imports. Over the next 40 years, fuel costs could fall by euro175 billion to euro320 billion a year, the commission said, but without action those bills will more than double.
Even with that increase in spending, the EU would lag behind China, India and Korea in terms of green investment, it said.
The plan calls for a tightening of Europe's cap and trade scheme, under which companies have limits on the amount of greenhouse gases they emit. They can buy extra credits if they exceed their limit from companies that emit less than allowed.
The commission did not say by how much they would lower the ceiling, leaving that question open for discussion among the 27 member states. But the provision for issuing fewer pollution permits "makes the whole proposal a different ball game to what we had on the table a week ago," Kumar told The Associated Press.
But a business group objected that the plan, especially its proposed reduction of pollution allowances, increased uncertainty.
"To improve predictability, it is essential not to disrupt the EU climate and energy policy framework already in place for 2020," said Business Europe. Further action on climate change should be matched by the EU's trading partners, it said.
The commission said at the current rate the EU will improve its energy efficiency by 9 percent by 2020, less than half its target, and listed a series of actions by governments and citizens to lift that rate.
It proposed that 3 percent of all public buildings a year should be refurbished. Energy companies can help consumers reduce consumption by installing double glazing. Energy labels on appliances help customers decide which refrigerator, freezer or washing machine to buy and encourages manufacturers to make better household equipment, it said.
By 2050 power generation could become carbon-free through the use of renewable energy like wind and solar, by capturing and burying carbon dioxide emitted by power plants and by increasing reliance on nuclear energy, the plan said.
The plan anticipates a bonus in the creation of up to 1.5 million new jobs. "Renewable energy has a strong track record in job creation. In just five years, the renewable industry increased its work force from 230 000 to 550 000," it said.